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Atlanta Hawks - Just two years ago, the Hawks had a memorable season and fantasies of at least getting to a Finals. This summer, as somewhat anticipated, All-Star Al Horford departed. He was joined by longtime starting PG Jeff Teague. Dubious import is Atlanta native Dwight Howard, who is on the downside of his career - to what extent we'll know soon enough. Coach Bud's system is good, but it also counts on team chemistry, which could experience a drop-off this season.
Boston Celtics - They're quick, they're fun, they're deep; they're well coached by Brad Stevens. Now they've added a star in Al Horford, who seems a perfect fit for their team. While they're missing a megastar and deep playoff experience, they rate to be a top three Eastern seed and with the right breaks could actually be #1, despite a healthy Cavs being significant favorites come playoff time.
Brooklyn Nets - Jeremy Lin returns to New York, albeit with the less glittery franchise. His energy and occasionally magical games will help the team and fans get through what projects as another essentially miserable season. Brook Lopez remains the Nets' feature star. He and Lin hope some of the young talent will grow sooner than expected.
Charlotte Hornets - Steve Clifford rates in the top six or so of league coaches and that's a good foundation for any team. The '16-17 Hornets are missing Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee from last year's roster, while only adding the fading Roy Hibbert, of known NBA players. So long as Kemba Walker is healthy, this group is around a .500 level team. Young defensive stud, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, returns from another injury and is a great watch for those who appreciate that end of the court.
Chicago Bulls - Out - D Rose, P Gasol and J Noah. In - Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Robin Lopez. Who knows how much adjustment time is required before we can tell how these pieces fit. The jury's out as far as grading Coach Hoiberg's first season and now he has to deal with other established egos and ball demands. There's clearly plenty of talent here on offense if it can be coordinated. Defense is another matter; outside of the Bulls’ only true star of-the-present, Jimmy Butler.
Cleveland Cavaliers - Essentially the same team which just rallied for a memorable Finals' win over the Golden State Warriors. Kyrie Irving was injured, then finally fit during the second half of last season. Kevin Love was still figuring out his optimal role and his ego place/space in the team hierarchy. Coach Blatt was replaced during the season by Lebron favorite Ty Lue. Things begin on a steadier note this season. Depth at PG is an issue with ferocious backup M Dellavedova gone, and frontcourt depth in a bit light, but otherwise you can pencil them back into the Finals barring some poor health luck.
Detroit Pistons - Stan Van Gundy coached the Pistons back to the playoffs after a long franchise absence. They're building something nice in Detroit, but there's already been a setback for this season's expectations. Star PG Reggie Jackson, the team's motor and only real ball-handler, has a knee issue and won't be ready to play until early December, most likely. Stud Center Andre Drummond received a warranted mega-payday this summer and now fans are hoping his effort doesn't drift (some have questioned the consistency of his focus, even prior to his huge salary jump).
Indiana Pacers - Coach Vogel is gone, with GM Larry Bird favorite and former assistant, Nate McMillan taking the spot. McMillan had a bit of success coaching in Portland not too long ago, albeit never getting past the first round there. He's not defensively-minded the way Vogel is, but then Bird wants pace, wants to develop a modern offense for player and fan enthusiasm at minimum. George Hill and Ian Mahinmi are gone, more real hits to Pacer D. Indiana rates to be fine, if not great. They did replace Hill with up-tempo Jeff Teague from the Hawks. Paul George is worth watching any night and following the progress of 20-year-old star-in-the-making Myles Turner is a treat.
Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade felt low-balled by the Heat, ending one of those rare superstar careers spent with just one team. Chris Bosh's blood clot issues continue and his career is likely over. The Heat do feature C Hassan Whiteside and PG Goran Dragic. They also have some young hustlers with plausible talent in Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson. It's a challenging season, but Miami's fan base is quite loyal and Riley/Spoelstra rate to do the best with what they have.
Milwaukee Bucks - 2014-15 was a major surprise. Last season was a disappointment, partially due to expectations having ramped up a bit prematurely. This year's hopes have already been dashed, with a season-ending injury to Khris Middleton, one of the Bucks' two best players. All-purpose guard Giannis "The Freak" Antetokounmpo, is a wonderful show unto himself, so remember to watch some Milwaukee games, regardless of their record.
New York Knicks - New York went shopping in Chicago to change their roster, adding oft-injured Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Courtney Lee should help their wing defense. Kristaps Porzingis had a fine rookie season, even if he seemed to tire down the stretch. New coach Jeff Hornacek has to navigate Phil Jackson's directives for this season (rumors are he's Lakers-bound next year,) along with managing egos like those of Melo and Rose. The starting group looks good on paper if healthy, but the bench is quite poor.
Orlando Magic - The Magic were thrilled they could land a coach with the status of Frank Vogel. He may not be an offensive genius, but for defense, he's considered one of the best. Helping him to take the Magic up the league's defensive rankings are the fine additions of Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo. Orlando did lose Victor Oladipo in the deal with the Thunder, and that's a real hit. Nonetheless, other than the absence of a decent PG (Payton is a poor shooting, turnover machine so far), the Magic have quite a bit of talent with Vucevic, Fournier and Gordon. There's been a losing culture with this franchise since Dwight Howard exited, but that's about to change.
Philadelphia 76ers - There has to be a worst team each year, but does it have to be the same team? There was hope with #1 pick Ben Simmons, plus their bigs getting healthier and more mature. An injury to Simmons likely has cost him the season, Noel and Okafor are both behind schedule (dealing with minor injuries,) acquired veteran PG J Bayless is nicked up with a wrist injury. Well, you get the basic picture. Joel Embiid has been impressive in pre-season, so check him out. Be kind to your basketball friends in Philly - you can only survive with gallows' humor for so long.
Toronto Raptors - Second in the East last year with a couple of good playoff games against the eventual champion Cavaliers. Stars Lowry and Derozan are happy with their contracts and Coach Casey was well taken care of this off-season. DeMarre Carroll is healthier and a few young players could improve. The downside is losing the D and inspiring energy of Bismack Biyombo. Another top three East seed awaits them.
Washington Wizards - Wizard fans hoped they'd be getting a special present from Oklahoma. Right postmark, wrong package. They received the relatively diminutive ex-Thunder coach Scott Brooks instead of home town giant Kevin Durant. So it goes sometimes. John Wall had surgeries on both knees after the season and is always a force, if even mostly healthy. There are stories about him and talented guard-mate Bradley Beal not getting along, but Brooks is the sort of players' coach who may help reduce the friction so it doesn't affect court performance. After a surge in projections coming into last season, the Wizards appear flat for the moment.
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